The Paradox of Civilization: Pre-Institutional Sources of Security and Prosperity

65 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2015 Last revised: 25 Aug 2021

See all articles by Ernesto Dal Bo

Ernesto Dal Bo

University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business - Business and Public Policy

Pablo Hernandez-Lagos

New York University, Abu Dhabi

Sebastián Mazzuca

Johns Hopkins University

Date Written: December 2015

Abstract

The rise of civilizations involved the dual emergence of economies that could produce surplus (“prosperity”) and states that could protect surplus (“security”). But the joint achievement of security and prosperity had to escape a paradox: prosperity attracts predation, and higher insecurity discourages the investments that create prosperity. We study the trade-offs facing a proto-state on its path to civilization through a formal model informed by the anthropological and historical literatures on the origin of civilizations. We emphasize pre-institutional forces, such as physical aspects of the geographical environment, that shape productive and defense capabilities. The solution of the civilizational paradox relies on high defense capabilities, natural or manmade. We show that higher initial productivity and investments that yield prosperity exacerbate conflict when defense capability is fixed, but may allow for security and prosperity when defense capability is endogenous. Some economic shocks and military innovations deliver security and prosperity while others force societies back into a trap of conflict and stagnation. We illustrate the model by analyzing the rise of civilization in Sumeria and Egypt, the first two historical cases, and the civilizational collapse at the end of the Bronze Age.

Suggested Citation

Dal Bo, Ernesto and Hernandez-Lagos, Pablo and Mazzuca, Sebastián, The Paradox of Civilization: Pre-Institutional Sources of Security and Prosperity (December 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2708715

Ernesto Dal Bo (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business - Business and Public Policy ( email )

Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

Pablo Hernandez-Lagos

New York University, Abu Dhabi ( email )

PO Box 903
NYC, NY 10276-0903
United States

HOME PAGE: http://pablohernandez-lagos.com

Sebastián Mazzuca

Johns Hopkins University ( email )

Baltimore, MD 20036-1984
United States

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